Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I know we sound like a broken record regarding submissions, but there are many things to consider before you press that all important send button.

After you’ve read your manuscript one last time to catch any little niggling mistakes, THEN run thorough spelling and grammar program check. You’ll be stunned and chagrined at what you find. I’ve experienced many a head-to-desk moment when I thought I’d fixed everything. Please spell check.  Please.

As you work through your manuscript, see if you have any long and complex sentences. She was taken at once by the beautiful and vast spread of the desert before her with small dips and hollows, and was grateful she had taken some time studying about the plants and animals that had lived in this area and thrived regardless of the harsh weather conditions.  How many times did you have to read this to figure out where it was going? You don’t want to lose your reader in a quagmire of unnecessary words.

Instead – maybe... She marveled at the vast and beautiful desert spread before her. After learning about the plants and animals that lived here, it still amazed her how they thrived in these harsh conditions. This brings the sentences into a pleasing cadence and simplifies it at the same time.
One trick to help detect these long, stumbling-block sentences is to read your work aloud. I know you’ve heard this before, and it can be embarrassing if you’re discovered reading to the family pet, but it really works. If you can’t read it aloud without tripping over the words, your reader will probably trip over them, too.

In your read-through, you may notice words you’ve used way too many times – pet words. Be aware of those as well. The Search and Replace tool is awesome for this job.

A necessary search-and-replace task will include eradicating ‘felt’ ‘began to’ ‘about to’ and ‘started to’.  As an example, ‘he felt like he was about to hurl’ could simply read ‘he nearly hurled’. More punchy? Yep. ‘Felt’ isn’t a very strong word – and there are so many replacements available. Try variations of these words instead: sense, experience, suffer, undergo, think, believe, consider, deem, suspect. There are many others as well.          

How about ‘he began to walk to the store’? It’s stronger as ‘he walked to the store’. Or ‘it began to pour buckets’ is better as ‘it poured buckets’.

Another search-and-replace task should include ‘was’ ‘that’ and ‘had’. Most incidences of ‘that’ can go away completely, as long as the sentence still makes sense. The words ‘was’ and ‘had’ may be part of a Passive Voice sentence, which we discussed a few weeks ago, and leads to weaker sentences and descriptions.


Yes, preparing a manuscript for submission is a TON of hard work. Almost as hard as writing it. However, if you want your readers captured by your story and eager for your next one, you have to take care of the structure that supports it. And the hard work will be so worthwhile. 

Monica Britt, editor

Twitter @mons1954

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bring It Here, Take It There

Cranky Old Grammar Lady threw the newspaper across the room yesterday. The offending photo caption read (paraphrased to protect the guilty), “The car crashed into this convenience store and the victim was brought to Central Northern General Medical Center and Wallet Removal Service Inc.” (Disclaimer: no such hospital exists in this state.)

What’s wrong with it? The misuse of the verb bring. Or in this case its past form, brought. COGL has noticed a marked uptick recently in the confusion between bring and take, and will now clarify the difference. Pay attention, you there in the back row.

Ahem. To cite Merriam-Webster, bring means “to convey, lead, carry or cause to come along with one toward the place from which the action is being regarded.” Take means “to lead, carry, or cause to go along with one to another place.”

In other words, one can bring something here, or take something there.

Incorrect: “Did you bring the outgoing mail to the post office?” he asked, as we sat at home.
Correct: “No, dumkopf, I took it to the post office. But here, I brought home a letter from your mother.”

Mnemonic--If the person or item is going there, use take. If the person or item is coming here, use bring.

Getting back to the newspaper. The victim is “carried to another place” from the convenience store in the picture. In other words, the victim “went there.” If the photo showed the ER at Central Northern etc., then the caption could correctly say the victim was brought to it--“conveyed to the place from which the action is being regarded.”

So far, so good. This being English, there is an exception, which accounts for COGL’s chronic crankiness. Actually, if you pay attention to the definitions, it’s not so much an exception as a nuance. Suppose COGL contacts her son and invites herself for a visit. In return, she offers some genuine New Hampshire maple syrup, which the poor boy can’t get in Pennsylvania. “Would you like me to bring you some? I’ll bring a gallon for you,” she says. Huh? The syrup is going there. Why is bring the correct verb and not take?

Because “the place from which the action is being regarded” is the son’s house. If that confuses you, think of it this way--because COGL has called/written/emailed/contacted the son, she has in effect put herself beside him and is regarding her own action from his location. It’s a courtesy, if you like; putting oneself in another’s shoes.

Of course, if COGL were speaking with her husband, Cranky Old Car Guy, she would say, “I’m going to take a gallon of maple syrup to our son’s house.” To which COCG would say, “You’re gonna spoil that kid.”

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

True or false: write what you know

I’m an editor mostly now but I started as an author. I’d like to share with you something I still hear, taken literally, that I think means something else entirely.

Always, authors are told to “write what you know.”  I did some research on who first said this and while this is most frequently attributed to Mark Twain, there is a general consensus that no one really knows who first said it. Surprisingly, the general consensus is also that the saying should be banned. Or at least an author’s reliance on it.

So, what does “write what you know” mean, really?

Well, some believe it should be taken literally— writers should not write about things we have not personally experienced. This is actually the definition I heard many years ago. Now, I find it very amusing and my reaction to it can be summed up by a quote from Robert Duncan—“If I write what you know, I bore you; if I write what I know, I bore myself, therefore I write what I don’t know.”

Isn’t that great?

Here’s another by Howard Nemerov that made me laugh—“Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.”

So true. Now, I don’t consider myself uninformed. I’m smart. I know stuff. But I don’t know enough about places and things to infuse my stories with the atmosphere readers want. Because while we read about characters, we also read for places and things. If I were to write only about what I know, I’d be writing short, flat stories.

I write paranormal stories. I have yet to meet a fallen angel, demon or a shape-shifting rock (Relic Defender: Key of Solomon). I have yet to experience life in a futuristic Earth (Hit Me With Your Best Shot) or travel to another planet. I have yet to visit Egypt and see the pyramids at Giza (Children of Egypt: Blood on the Moon). I have yet to explore the Mayan ruins in South America. Yet, these are all places I have visited in my research and in my imagination.

I’d like to leave you with another great quote on author’s writing what they know. This is from Valerie Sherwood: “Don’t write what you know—what you know may bore you, and thus bore your readers. Write about what interests you—and interests you deeply—and your readers will catch fire at your words.”

Would my writing be any better if I experienced some of these things? Maybe. I don’t know. I think what makes it great is that I haven’t been there so I can infuse my stories with the passion of discovering something new. And that’s what I try to do.

If you read my books, I hope you agree.

Cassiel Knight